Accentuate the Positive

Accentuate the Positive

I don’t know if this ever happens to you, you’ll be talking to someone, reading, listening to your radio, on your computer or watching tv and you notice the same or similar themes coming through from different sources. When it happens to me I stop and take notice. I figure there’s something in there I need to be aware of, something that perhaps I need to learn or at the very least something I need to check out. Maybe that’s fanciful, or maybe it’s not! Either way I use it as a personal beacon to get me to pay attention and to take a closer look. It happened to me last Sunday. I kept coming across people talking about looking beyond all the negative things happening around us, locally and globally, and looking at what we had to be grateful for. In fact one friend set it as a challenge for the week – to look closely at what in my world was good. Now on the whole, I’m a fairly positive individual. I thought “sweet, simply done”. In fact so easy was the task, I thought, that whilst whistling Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life”, I challenged the Fit for Life Facebook followers to spend all 24hrs of Monday without making a single negative comment. I lasted 3 hours and 5 minutes from waking up until I burst forth with a negative comment. At 9.05 am I had to reset and start again!

Like moths attracted to light we humans seem to be attracted toward negative thinking & negative news. Next time someone makes a negative comment just take note of what happens. Often if one person starts then lots of us will pile in with similar comments. But why are we so drawn toward the negative?

It seems we are born with what’s known as a  “negativity bias”. Our great capacity to absorb negative input probably evolved in order to keep us out of harm’s way. Our survival depended on it. We had to be acutely aware of any potential dangers in order to avoid them. Not a bad system really, that supersensitive negativity enhancer. Not bad for avoiding a sabre-tooth tiger or someone coming up behind us wielding a club. It’s just that here, where we live, we don’t have too many of those sorts of threats in our daily lives. So, although we don’t use the bias to avoid wild animals it’s still active in all the other spheres of our daily lives. Research has shown that a negative perspective is more “contagious’ than a positive one. Analysis tells us that there are more negative emotional words (62%) than positive ones (32%) in the English language.

It’s also been shown that two thirds of the neurons in the amagdyla are used to detect negative experiences. Once the brain starts looking for and focusing on bad news it’s stored into long term memory extremely quickly. That makes sense, you don’t want to forget about that sabre-tooth stalking you! On the other side of the equation positive experiences need to be consciously held in our awareness for around 12 seconds (doesn’t sound long but try timing it) in order to be transferred from short term to long term memory.

No wonder Dr Rick Hanson, a notable psychologist and author, commented “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones”.

That just got me thinking even more. Why even bother looking for the positive in the first place? Why make the effort to think about the good around us if that’s how we’re wired? Seems to me there are benefits to be had from looking on the bright side.

Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Benefits include:

* Living longer

* Lower rates of depression

* Lower levels of stress & distress

* Stronger immune system

* Better overall psychological and physical well-being

* Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease

* Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

* Higher levels of satisfaction with life in general

* Higher levels of gratitude

Even more straightforward than any of the above is acknowledging the positives simply gives you a nice feeling. It helps you appreciate what you have. In turn that appreciation, or gratitude, helps you to feel better and see the positives, it’s an upward spiral!

It’s known that because our brains are Velcro for negative experiences we need more positives than negatives to balance it all out. In fact we need a ratio of five positives to one negative. The size of the positive experience isn’t important, simple, small, regular positive experiences tip the scales towards happiness.

I’ll leave you with a song written in 1944. It’s been recorded more times than I can poke a stick at and by some really big names, Bing Crosby, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin to name a few. It’s even been used by Disney! It sums things up quite nicely I think…

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum

Bring gloom down to the minimum

Have faith or pandemonium

Liable to walk upon the scene”

Accentuate the positive by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, 1944.


Jan Aitken Life Coach

Jan Aitken is a qualified Life Coach based in Dunedin. With over 8 years of experience Jan is the coach to help propel you forward and live the life you imagine.

Jan Aitken is a qualified Life Coach based in Dunedin. With over 8 years of experience Jan is the coach to help propel you forward and live the life you imagine.


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